The Supreme Court has this week ruled in favour of 251 female employees in their equal pay case against Dumfries and Galloway Council.
The women all work as classroom assistants, support for learning assistants or nursery nurses and had brought claims that their work was of equal value to that of groundsmen and refuse workers. Unlike the women, the men were paid substantial bonus payments on top of their basic pay.
They successfully argued that, although the men do not work in the same workplace, under equal pay law they can nevertheless use them as comparators. The Supreme Court held that working in different locations for the same employer is not a barrier to achieving equality. They said that one of the purposes of equalities legislation is to ‘iron out’ traditional pay inequalities.
The case was taken on behalf of the women by Unison.
Alastair Pringle, Scotland Director for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in the appeal to the Supreme Court said: “The Supreme Court judgment confirms that Dumfries and Galloway Council’s attempt to limit the circumstances in which women can compare their work and pay with that of their male colleagues is inconsistent with the fundamental right to equal pay for equal work.”
Labour Group leader Ronnie Nicholson said: “Most councillors were actually unaware the matter was in the supreme court this week because as usual we were kept in the dark by officers. This result is truly historic and the women who have pursued their cases for seven years deserve to be congratulated for their perseverance. I have to say I am very uncomfortable that this council appears to have been acting as a road block against equality and the decision of the supreme court is one I welcome. This could well have implications for councils across Scotland, but in particular Dumfries and Galloway because we do have a poor record of low pay within the council compared to other parts of Scotland. Although this is not yet the end of the battle as an employment tribunal will still have to take place, the council should accept this ruling graciously as the funds to deal with this have already been set aside.”
And South Scotland MSP Claudia Beamish welcomed the ruling.
She said: “This week’s decision has been a long time coming and is testament to the determination of the women involved to argue their case.
“The result sends a strong message about the value that we as a society place on roles traditionally filled by women.
“While there are undoubted financial implications to the result there can be no justification for this sort of discrimination in the workplace. We need to recognise the importance of these roles in our communities.
“I hope that the Council will reflect on the findings of the court and take steps to settle claims as quickly as possible.”
A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “This is a complex case, which has been considered by Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal, Court of Session, and now the Supreme Court. The Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Session both ruled in our Council’s favour. The Supreme Court judgment is the most recent stage of the legal process. The appellants, including classroom assistants and nursery nurses, now have won the right to have their jobs compared to those of male manual workers, such as road workers and groundsmen. This judgment has implications for many local authorities and other public bodies. Our Council will now consider its position in response to the Supreme Court judgment.”